'His great-grandmother was sitting by the fire mending one of the old patchwork quilts. Tolly was familiar with the quilts, some of which were used as curtains for the living-room windows, hanging from ceiling to floor in bulgy folds against the stone walls... Mrs Oldknow had a basket beside her full of pieces of paper all cut the same size and shape, over which she had neatly tacked bright cotton materials...'
The Chimneys of Green Knowe ~ Lucy Boston
I like to think I am no slouch when it comes to patchwork. Admittedly I have more UnFinishedObjects than might be good for me, but I am rarely without a project on the go, either embryonically in my head, or half machined, or tacked and ready to quilt, or half quilted, and I can't imagine life without the joy and frisson of that creativity. At the moment, as well as all the above, I am back with English piecing over papers, hexagon florets that will slowly stitch up into something bigger until I get fed up with it and call it a day at a wallhanging/tablecloth/single/double quilt...I don't know yet.
There is no plan, no design, but English piecing over papers took on a whole new meaning when I saw Lucy Boston's quilts at the Manor at Hemingford Grey...this is most definitely 'a rare historical collection of textile art.'
said Lucy Boston of her quilt-making.
I have read her book cover to cover several times over so I felt I knew the quilts, would be well-placed to admire them, to find those rhythms, but nothing quite prepared me for actually seeing them... stunningly original designs, cleverly matched fabrics utilising the patterns to their full extent, every piece hand-stitched...twenty stitches to the inch even when she was ninety.
The quilts were all spread on a bed, one on top of the other to be peeled back in layers for viewing, Diana Boston on one side of the bed, me white-gloved on the other and off we went.I am quite sure my pictures don't follow the order in which the quilts are displayed, but hopefully you can get the gist.
Here is Diana pointing out the merits of the Mariner's Compass quilt. If you have ever tried to hand piece a Mariner's Compass you will know that things can get very ugly around those points, to say nothing of creating a perfect circle. Judy Mathieson perfected the art into a wonderful book with templates published in 1987 and we all had a go (yes of course I started one block...no of course I haven't finished it) Lucy was making this quilt in 1978...
This next quilt, Patchwork of the Crosses (88" x 99") probably made in the late 1950s, uses long hexagons and squares and, like all the others, shows real care and attention to the detail. You can see that each piece of fabric is carefully cut to match (we know that as 'fussy cutting' these days) which adds immensely to the impact of the design, but Lucy was also quick to acknowledge the wastefulness of this in a craft borne of thrift.
There are fifty-six blocks, no two the same...and remember all done by hand over papers.
It was so good to see some of my favourite quilts in close-up and High Magic is definitely one of them. Sir Martin Ryle, the Astronomer Royal was a very close friend of Lucy's and is considered the inspiration for this quilt, made while Lucy was writing An Enemy at Green Knowe.
To look closely is to see all the detail to which a photograph can't possibly do justice...the perfect choice of mottled fabric for the night sky, the one hundred and thirty pieced stars that make the lattices, more points to weep over, and the phases of the moon making that outside border...
If any one quilt stands out for me, both for its design and its execution it has to be Kaleidoscope. Made in 1973-1974 . How complicated is this..
The patterns blend and meld drawing the eye along and round and across as, through half-closed eyes, the pattern seems to radiate and move just like a real kaleidoscope....and how excited was I to spot this white and turquoise fabric from which I made a sun dress back in 1970
Lucy didn't consider this quilt a classic despite its nightmarishly difficult design, but I do. This is all about tones and shades of colour and each has to be exactly right for the whole quilt to work in the way it does, with one 'block' incorporating overlapping tones with its neighbour. Fiendishly hard to pull off in the days before computer design which might now produce a numbered chart, and requiring 'the brains of a crystallographer and a contrapuntalist,' says Lucy in a letter to a friend. But she is in the flow, working at it from 5am on cold winter's mornings until late at night. Nothing else matters...just this quilt. We have probably all been there with creative projects of our own, when the world and its worries disappear, and all this at the age of eighty-one.
It takes real courage and imagination to sustain the interest in making a quilt in monotones, to say nothing of searching out the fabrics, and remembering this was made in 1967 when fabrics designed specifically for patchwork had yet to arrive. The plain joining blocks in the Keyboard Patchwork are made in embossed wedding dress fabric which gives the quilt real texture, whilst the monotones give it a timeless quality.
Kettle's Yard was another of our stopping places on our mini-tour (more of which soon) and I was intrigued to discover that Jim Ede, the founder of the Yard, had wanted this quilt for his Museum of Modern Art. Lucy declined...her work was for domestic use not exhibiting.
I have made an Irish Chain quilt by strip piecing the fabric on the machine, rotary cutting the strips and then rejoining, and I made it in a day. I can't begin to imagine how long it would take to do over papers and by hand.
So there you have it, the end of a truly memorable visit. I do hope you have enjoyed the blog posts and pictures as much as we enjoyed our tour of The Manor, and my thanks again to Diana Boston for showing us around and for so generously allowing me to take the pictures of Lucy's quilts...it has all been a really inspirational treat and a visit that we will never forget.